During the 35-year rule of Paraguayan Dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) the virulent anti-communism and the regimeâ€™s penchant for torture and prisons sent a message to would-be Che Guevaras and the Soviet Union that fit in with Americaâ€™s cold war strategy.
Today the shaky Paraguayan democracy of six million seems the perfect empty space in need of filling by Americaâ€™s global policemen. Human rights monitors are increasingly alarmed about growing militarization in Paraguay.
Of principal concern is an increase in military bases in the countryside and government charges that the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces has helped form a clandestine ogranization in
The killing this spring of a policeman and an attack on a police station in the rural area of JhuguÃ¡ Ã‘andÃº, near Concepcion by an armed group has sparked further uncertainty and is being used to justify the growing internal security crackdown.(1)
Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte Frutos ordered the opening of 18 new military bases following the kidnapping death of the daughter of former Paraguayan President Raul Cubas in February, 2005 (2). The kidnapping and murder of Cecilia Cubas, 32, was allegedly carried out by members of a small leftist party, Patria Libre.
The case brought an outcry for more security, tougher pernalties for kidnapping and reinstatement of the death penalty. The party’s secretary general, Osmar Martinez, and 14 others went on trial this July. Other suspects have fled the country, some seeking refugee status in Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. A series of e-mails sent by Martinez have led to the government accusations of ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. The spector of FARC operations in Paraguay fits in nicely with U.S. efforts to depict Paraguay as a insecure country in need of American intervention.
In the five years since the September 11 attacks the Bush administration has been slowly shaping a plan to project American power into the center of South America under the aegus of combating Arab terrorist financing and combating drug trafficking, gun running and money laundering.
This year, after an endless series of counter-terrorism training sessions; show-the-flag military maneuvers and repeated rumors of a new U.S. military base the American-lead program seems ready to launch.
U.S. Ambassador James Cason kicked off the Paraguayan offensive with the Aug. 22 inaugeration of a antinarcotics base in the drug trafficking center of San Juan Caballero. The base will include 50 U.S.-trained Paraguayan narcotics agents and two helicopters.(3) Paraguay has been identified as a transhipment point for 40 to 60 metic tons of cocaine. Drug pilots laden with marijuana shipments regularly crash in neighboring countries and Paraguay is a source of arms for gangs in neigboring Brazil.
This fall a four-country intelligence center is scheduled to open in the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguazu as the center piece of America’s war on terror in South America. The targets are Lebanese and Palestinian immigrants residing in the triborder area of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.(4)
Total U.S. assistance to Paraguay in 2006 is running at $55.1 million with military assistance at $1.5 million and Police assistance at $1.2 million. (5)
“Paraguay’s institutions remain weak and its fluid borders provide fertile ground for corruption and criminal activity including terroist financing,” said this years 2007 U.S. State Department Foreign Assistance request.
The United States has earnmarked over half its aid package, $35 million dollars, to be funneled by the Agency for International Development into key Paraguyan ministries to combat corruption and increase prosecutions.
This intervention, which involves various types of U.S. advisers, aims according to outgoing AID Chief in Paraguay, Wayne Nilsestuen, to be a “threat to corrupt people in the public and private sector and is going to produce strong reactions.” (6)
For the program to be effective the long ruling Colorado Party of President Duarte Frutos will have to confront its own party constituents.
Recent announcement by the president of plans to change the 1992 constitution to allow reelection may make that difficult. Oppositon groups forming to block the change charge that reelection will only foment more corruption. (7)
The Colorado Party survived the transition to democracy and has maintained itself in power through it’s use of patronage and government contracting practices. The party’s political machine includes many of Paraguay’s 200,000 public employees and extends into the military and judiciary.
No official honors were paid to Alfredo Stroessner upon his death in exile in Brasilia on Aug.16. But Paraguay today is still essentially the country he created — its economy, poverty and corruption all containing particular Stroessner-era traits. And once again it has become a symbolic bulwark against America’s foreign enemies.
As militarization advances memories of Stroessner’s brutal anti-guerrila campaigns have resurfaced. Colombia, which has racked up one of the worst human rights records on the continent, is following its American paymasters south.
A June visit to Bogata by Paraguayan National Prosecutor RubÃ©n Candia Amarilla cemented an alliance with the Colombian Department of Administrative Security. Manuel PeÃ±ate head of of the Colombian secret police, known as the DAS, announced that Colombia investigative teams would be traveling to Paraguay to investigate FARC activities and conduct training.(8)
After returning to Asuncion, Paraguayan prosecutors announced on July 14 that they are widening the case to include charges against FARC Commandante Rodrigo Granda. (9)
Granda, known as the FARC Foreign Minister, was kidnapped from Caracas in Dec. 2004 and jailed on other charges in Colombia in a controversial move that touched off a diplomatic row between Colombia and Venezuela. Paraguayan prosecutors contend that Granda served as an adviser to Martinez during the Cubas kidnapping. They also allege that the FARC has assisted Patria Libre in establishing a clandestine organization in Paraguay.
“To some extent this is an extension of Plan Colombia. The extension of Plan Colombia to another zone that is not just Colombia. This agreement with the Colombians can be called Plan Paraguay,” said Vidal Acevedo of the Human Rights Organization Service for Peace and Justice of Paraguay known as SERPAJ.(10)
Activities by the Paraguayan Prosecutors Office have been sharply criticized in recent years both in relation to the handling of kidnapings and investigative actions in the rural areas. “There is a concern about the administration of justice,” said Adelaida Galeano, spokesperson for the Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinator. “Because they (the prosecutors) are involved in all the crises we have been having: Prosecutors who are manipulated or allow themselves to be pressured by the political situation of the moment or by people in the zone.”
The Coordinator, known as Codehupy, held a town meeting in July, 2005,(11) which compiled complaints of abuse and arbitrary actions by Paraguayan prosecutors. Among them were accusations of unfair application of justice, and failure to investigate abuses such as torture. Defense laywers also complained of interference by the prosecutors to prevent proper defense of accused clients.
The chief concern is that the government will use the pretext of guerrilla activity to crack down on numeorus campesino organizations in the Paraguayan countryside. Rural Paraguay is a tinderbox plagued by drug trafficking organizations and conflict between peasant land organizations and owners of large landed estates.
“There is a poverty in the countryside that causes many people to sell their land to Brazilians, also Mennonites, who cultivate soybeans. And with the use of fumigations and agrotoxics this is producing an expulsion of peasants,â€ Acevedo said. Therefore there is a resistance by the peasant organizations; hence the occurrence of confrontations.”
Adding to the tension is a perception of a politicized and unfair implementation of social programs and lack of an effective land reform program, Acevedo said.
Some 2000 peasants have been arrested during protests and put on conditional release which restricts their right to protest in the future and prevents them from leaving the country. SERPAJ is raising concerns that this practice, known as fichando, violates political rights and is a form of repression.
The opening of the military bases, and the arrival of Colombian investigators is being accompanied by a wide spread use of citizen guards and security committees. “These are civilians that are organized to combat a lack of security and delinquency. And these are looked upon with favor by the interior ministry,” Acevedo said. “And many of these citizen guards have already killed people in the interior of the country. They are paramilitary organizations. They are controlling the people and they oppose peasant organizations.”
Amnesty International has urged use of restraint by the government and legal rather than military remedies to political violence. It has also called efforts to reinstate the death penalty an overreaction.(12)
“We don’t want to punish death with more death,” said Julio Torales President of Amnesty International Paraguay. “As Amnesty International we encourage the government of the nation to carry out the investigation within the framework of the law…a fair trial that gets to the truth which is what the nation wants.”
On July 21, 3,000 Paraguayan and international protesters filled the streets of Ciudad del Este to condemn what they see as the growing U.S. presence and government repression of Paraguayan peasant
1.ABC Color April 26, 2006
2.ABC Color February 27, 2005
4.A.P. SAO PAULO, March 30, 2006, EFE Brasilia Aug.
5. U.S. Embassy Paraguay Brief Outline of Assistance to Paraguay. http://paraguay.usembassy.gov/
6. ABC Color June 19, 2006
7. ABC Color Sept. 13, 2006; ABC Color Sept. 1, 2006
8. ABC Color June 6, 2006
9. ABC Color July 14, 2006
10. Interview Vidal Acevedo, Paraguay office of Servicio Paz y Justicia
11.Interview Adelaida Galeano office of the Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinator.
12.Interview Julio Torales, president Amnesty International. Paraguay